Gut Bacteria Could Hold the Key to Treating Inflammatory Bowel Disease

Gut Bacteria Could Hold the Key to Treating Inflammatory Bowel Disease
(Photo by Towfiqu barbhuiya via Unsplash)
Steve Milne

Australian researchers have isolated five strains of beneficial gut bacteria that may lead to the development of new treatments for inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) and reduce the risk of certain types of bowel cancer.

IBD is thought to be caused by an abnormal composition of gut bacteria which creates an immune response in genetically susceptible people, thus resulting in relapsing gut inflammation and debilitating symptoms.

Researchers from the University of Queensand (UQ) and Mater Research have identified bacteria strains that suppress gut inflammation, offering hope to IBD sufferers.

UQ researcher Associate Professor Jake Begun said in a UQ release on Tuesday that the team isolated several species that produce a range of anti-inflammatory substances.

“While the gut microbiome is made up of trillions of bacteria that have co-evolved with humans over time, our lab tests identified five strains that were able to suppress inflammation in blood and tissue samples from IBD patients,” he said.

 The University of Queensland. (Mariangela/Adobe Stock)
The University of Queensland. (Mariangela/Adobe Stock)

“Furthermore, one of these healthy gut bacterial strains produced anti-inflammatory substances that were able to reduce disease severity in a pre-clinical model by inhibiting one of the master molecular regulators of inflammation called NF-kB, without causing any side-effects.”

According to Mater Research and UQ PhD candidate Rabina Giri, NF-kB was reduced by around 50 percent in animal models, which was enough to suppress inflammation.

“Our findings could pave the way for the development of therapies for IBD that are based on the natural substances produced by ‘good’ gut bacteria which may prove to be safer than existing drugs.

Reducing the Risk of Colon Cancer

Over 100,000 Australians live with IBD, primarily Crohn's disease or ulcerative colitis, and around one in five people with a disease that affects their colon develop colorectal cancer—double the rate in the general population.

Colorectal cancer patients are usually treated with potent drugs that suppress the immune system to reduce inflammation and hence relieve symptoms.

Unfortunately, these drugs are only effective in about 50 percent of patients, so Dr. Begun is hopeful that the research findings may lead to treatments that can be utilised in this area.

However, he also stressed the importance of healthy lifestyle choices in greatly reducing a person's risk of developing bowel diseases, including cancer.

“Studies show that diets rich in fibre and low in refined sugar, ultra-processed food, and processed meat can reduce the risk of IBD and bowel cancer,” Begun said.

He also noted that early detection and treatment are associated with the best outcomes in colorectal cancer.

“Patients with a family history of bowel cancer, or who are at high risk of bowel cancer, should discuss screening with their general practitioner," he said.

Lyn Savage, a 56-year-old patient who struggled with bowel problems from an early age and underwent colon cancer treatment at the Mater Hospital in Brisbane in 2021, said the research findings provided hope to patients suffering from bowel disorders.

“If researchers can find out what’s causing bowel disease there’s a chance that one day down the track my children or grandchildren won’t have to go through what I have experienced over the past decades,” she said.

The study is published in the journal Cell Reports.
Steve is an Australian reporter based in Sydney covering sport, the arts, and politics. He is an experienced English teacher, qualified nutritionist, sports enthusiast, and amateur musician. Contact him at [email protected].